Resilience through story: Participatory action research to promote wellbeing among college students

Publication Date


Document Type



Public Health and Recreation

Publication Title

American Public Health Association 2020 Annual Meeting and Expo

Conference Location



Background: College students experience a high burden of depression. To address this, we formed a student-faculty collaborative and conducted a participatory action research study using digital storytelling. We hypothesized that viewing stories of non-traditional students navigating challenges would improve peer self-confidence, promote a sense of belonging, and improve community welcoming norms, thereby promoting resilience and reducing mental health morbidity.

Methods: Using StoryCenter methodology, 8 students in our collaborative developed digital stories about their journey to and through college. Themes included depression, discrimination, substance abuse, financial hardship, and disability. We presented the stories at a campus-wide student success symposium; then partnered with the Latinx Success Center to screen the digital stories to all freshman during orientation (N ≊ 4,000).

Results: The digital stories were well received by students. In a mixed-methods evaluation of one orientation session (N=64), more than half of the students who viewed the videos reported that they found the stories very useful and 65% of students found the stories very relevant. When asked open ended questions about the videos, a third of students reported finding them “inspiring.” One student reported “I was quite moved by the vulnerability displayed in the videos. I wasn’t expecting them to be so raw and real.”

Conclusions: In addition to specialized service provision, the Institute of Medicine recommends universal interventions to promote wellbeing and reduce mental health morbidity among college students. Student-driven digital storytelling presents a promising intervention modality to promote resilience on college campuses.


College Students, Depression